Les Baxter – Que Mango! [Alshire Records, 1970]

Technically the last of Les Baxter’s albums (and the last real Exotica album, as some have said), “Que Mango” (done with the help of 101 Strings) is a 30-minute “virtual tour” through the sunny skies, beaches and romance of South America, and one that will leave many a buff of the style satisfied, though perhaps in a different way than they’re used to.

People often insist that an artist’s later work is inferior to their earlier material, such as a kind of “running out of ideas” phenomenon that actually is fairly common. After I had listened to this album all the way through, it was pretty obvious to me that this is not quintessential Les, per se. This album is, however, quite distinguishable in essence from every album he had released prior. For one thing, the songs on this album are simpler, lighter, shorter and more digestible than most of his other repertoire. There’s also something different about the undertones on this release that really stand out to me. “Que Mango” feels like it has a distinctly jet-set vibe. While this may only be different from the typical Exotica sound in subtle ways, it nonetheless shines through on all twelve tracks.

These songs are also more “hip.” The qualities here are more reminiscent of 1970 and less reminiscent of the far-out “African Jazz/Skins”-era sounds or even the lighter “Primitive and the Passionate”-era orchestration. This is “updated” Baxter, more or less, and he apparently had a clear head and an open mind about the changing trends in the music industry when he recorded this. Don’t get me wrong, though. Many of the qualities that make the man’s work great are still present here. The trademark impressionistic “abstraction” finds its way into the material, and it’s just as vibrant, expansive and appealing as ever, just not quite as mysterious as many of his more definitive LPs are.

Scamp Records, the mid-90s Caroline subsidiary label that released this album on CD, also reissued other Space Age recordings that seem more on the esoteric and “completist” side of the genre. A record by Maya Angelou, Mel Henke, The Shadows and several by Martin Denny are included in their limited, but nevertheless first-class, catalog. Personally, I think they had a lot of potential in the 90s revival market, and it’s too bad they weren’t able to stick around longer than a few years. You can access their discography at Discogs.com, if you feel so inclined.

All in all, this album would be enjoyed most by more experienced listeners of the Space Age Pop, Exotica and Lounge genres. While not all fans of these genres would appreciate this release, they’d be able to “read between the lines,” so to speak, and understand how “Que Mango” stands apart from the Baxter “brand” that he became known for over the span of his career.

Joseph A. Bremson
The Exciting Sounds Project

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